Like all other major religions, Islam prohibits the taking of innocent lives, and only allows warfare in the face of direct attack. And even then, according to the Quran, the moment an aggressor yields, all fighting should cease and be replaced with forgiveness and mercy.
In those cases, religion is used as an excuse for the violent pursuit of largely political goals. Religious scriptures have been cherry-picked by fundamentalists of all faiths to justify violence against nonbelievers, and the Quran is no different [source: ING]. If you pull certain verses of the Quran out of their historical context, they can be twisted to sound like instructions to kill non-Muslims "where you find them," as one verse puts it.
In the early years of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were persecuted and attacked in Mecca, forcing them to flee to Medina. Although his supporters wanted him to fight back, the prophet refused until Allah gave him permission. And when that permission to "kill the disbelievers" finally came, it was in response to a specific attack under specific historical circumstances [source: Rashid].
Other Quranic verses about warfare make it clear that violence is allowed only in cases of self-defense, or when defending the lives of other believers, such as Jews and Christians. And the moment the enemy "desists," fighting should stop [source: Rashid].
It is often reported that people who join groups such as ISIS believe that if they die during battle or as suicide bombers they will go straight to heaven as martyrs. But when one digs deeper there is generally an economic, identity or other motivation for them joining as well [source: Simon]. Equating a just war to fight oppression and injustice with terrorism is a mistake made both by terrorists and critics of Islam.